Old fashioned street corner style doo wop.
The doo wop vocal group Jive 5 is best known for its big-hit pop single “My True Story” from 1961. Eugene Pitt delivered the lead vocal with an ache in his voice that conveyed true teen-age angst and stone-faced seriousness. He soulfully sang the doleful story of a love triangle between Sue, Earl, and Lorraine as if it was an episode of the television show Dragnet. “Names have been changed dear/ To protect you and I,” he crooned as if this universal tale of woe was a unique, actual real-life drama. But the force of Pitt’s emotional narration, and the four gritty voices harmonizing behind him, convincingly sold the lyrics. Despite the downer message, everyone ends up having to cry his/her blues away, the song has a cathartic edge. Love might make the teardrops fall, but love is a magic thing. The song is a testament to the power of love.
“My True Story” was the Jive 5’s first single, as well as the band’s biggest chart success. The group dented the hit parade a few times, but by the time the Beatles and the British Invasion hit the American shores in 1964, the Jive 5’s musical career was largely over. This compilation features not one, but two versions of “My True Story” that frame the disc. The original mono version opens the album while a stereo version from a few years later closes it. Three of the other cuts explicitly make reference to the band’s signature tune. All 20 tracks on this compilation disc come from the early ‘60s, when the Jive 5 recorded for the independent New York City Beltone label. Taken as a whole, the material tells an interesting story about the band and the era from which the music emerged.
Doo wop music (if not all rock and roll) from this time period could be classified into three main varieties: romantic music meant to make out to, party songs intended for dancing and other group activities, and novelty hits to listen to just for fun. The Jive 5 recorded all three kinds, and the evidence proves how talented the band members were. Almost every rendition here has merit, despite the fact that the songs themselves are not especially original. Still, many of the songs would be perfect for parkology, as DJ Jerry Blavat used to call it when he played records on the AM radio that were meant to be used as a soundtrack for young people who drove to secluded spots to be alone together. The party songs are eminently danceable, thanks to the vocalizations that make the beats infectious. And the novelty tracks are enjoyably weird. They make one go “huh” as well as “ha ha”. The Jive 5’s relatively short career was due to the changing times and tastes. The 1961 hit “My True Story” was a throwback to an earlier time and would have fit in better during the late ‘50s. By 1963, the Jive 5’s old-fashioned street corner style of doo wop was superceded by slicker, more modern sounding groups out of the Brill Building or even Motown. And then the Beatles arrived in 1964, making the Jive 5 seem even more dated.
The disc contains many gems, from all three categories, that would have been hits if they had been released in the ‘50s. For example, the Jive 5 do a hot version of “You Know What I Would Do” in which the band members take turns telling their girlfriends what they would do if they could; that, of course, includes “making love”. While a more innocent meaning might have been intended than the words suggest today (the lyrics also refer to Jack and Jill and Humpty Dumpty!), the latent intent is clear. The high energy level of the song conveys the erotic impatience of the singers. When the vocalists aren’t singing actual lyrics, they still make noises and go “ahh-ahh” or “boom boom” in the background. Then there’s the dance track, “Hully Gully Callin’ Time”, where one of the singers directs the crowd to do certain special steps like “Do the Frank Sinatra—put your hands in your pocket”. Silly maybe, but doesn’t it make you want to shimmy nice and easy? And speaking of silly, the black boys from Brooklyn not only cover the German folksong (in English) “Lilli Marlene” to a martial beat, but they also do an ode to flying saucers, “People from Another World”. The vocal sound effects of the spaceship, the alien talking, and such are truly otherworldly.
Beltone compiled these tracks for release more than 40 years ago, but never issued the album because of the Jive 5’s declining record sales. Indeed, in a world of “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, these songs sounded hopelessly dated. But these cuts contain lots of listening pleasure from the perspective of the present. The Jive 5 had great vocal talents and a knack for layered five part harmonies during an era when this became an increasingly less important talent. They deserve to be heard.
// Notes from the Road
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